Mondo del Vino – The Sicilian Connection

by Susan Desjardins

Sicily via Vin Italy

It's an easy train ride from Venice to Verona, through verdant Italian hills and historic towns. And so, we sped along, arriving at the Verona train station mid-morning, to a thrumming, single-minded crowd headed toward the shuttle to Verona Fiera, the massive centre at which this 51st edition of Vin Italy was being held.


Hosting over 130,000 producers, mainly from Italy but also from other countries, this trade fair is an incredible organizational enterprise locally and for the Italian wine and food entrepreneurs featuring their products. The pavilions are massive, including ones devoted to Piedmont, the Veneto, Emiligia-Romagna. The Tuscan pavilion also hosted the international wineries, while the Sardinia pavilion was home to organic wineries, as well as members of the Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers. The Fiera is a well-organized milling mass of winery owners, winemakers, distributors, restaurants owners, sommeliers and others, especially crowded on the Monday of my visit, as many restaurants are closed on Mondays, freeing their owners to attend.

Knowing I was headed to Sicily, I focused my attention at Vin Italy on the island, tasting wines with a small number of producers whose properties I would be visiting later in my itinerary.

Mondo del Vino

Barone Montalto is a familiar label in the LCBO, and one of the companies which created the Mondodelvino holding company in 2013. Barone Montalto itself, located near Santa Ninfa in Sicily, was established in 2000, its first 2006 vintage released after completion of the state-of-the-art winery. Locally, a variety of grapes are grown, including Pinot Grigio, Catarratto, Grillo, Viognier, Nero d'Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon on about 50 acres. I learned that both Nero d'Avola and Grillo will receive DOC certification as of the 2017 harvest.

The strong winds and dry local conditions have made it possible for Barone Montalto to begin organic production on a select tract of land. They have submitted two organic wines to the LCBO for consideration: The 2016 Catarratto offers lovely floral, herbal and fruit aromas, a fine light silky texture, clean acidity and flavours of fruit underlaid with mineral. The nicely balanced 2016 Nero d'Avola was harvested early and fermented at moderate temperatures to retain both its freshness and to show the true character of the fruit. It's dry, lively and ripe, with loads of red and black fruit flavours through a dry finish.

With Sicily's long, dry, hot summers, irrigation is a must and timing of harvest is critical to maintain a fresh texture in the wines. The winery produces about half a million cases annually, most wines finished at the facility, then shipped by refrigerated tanker to Mondodelvino’s bottling facility in Piedmonte.

Winemaker, Nicola Gufo, was our guide on a visit to the winery, which is surrounded by its own vineyards as well as the olive groves and vines of a local cooperative. Nicola studied oenology near Venice, then spent a couple of years traveling to California, Australia and New Zealand, where he was involved in harvests and cellar work. On his return to Italy, he began his Master's degree, and was almost immediately hired by Mondo del Vino in 2010 to act as winemaker at Barone Montalto, while in parallel continuing his studies. As we discussed the winery operations, he commented "Working as a winemaker is a constant learning experience - each vintage is unique and offers its own opportunities and challenges; there is always something new to learn."

You'll find several Barone Montalto wines in the LCBO, some of them available on an ongoing basis, others through Vintages. The tasting included a few wines that are not available in Canada, but are worth a mention. The winery has developed a vino 'frizzante' from a blend of primarily Chardonnay with Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Called Cucunci, it's characterized by a light spritz, bright tangy flavours of citrus and tree fruit with a touch of grapefruit zest on the lively finish. Ammasso is Barone Montalto's DOC offering produced from a blend of 80% Nero d'Avola and 20% Nerello Mascalese. Aged briefly in French oak, it's a complex, layered wine where the freshness belies the 14.5% alcohol and 9 grams of residual sugar. The opulence of the fruit, driven by the use of dried grapes, is deftly balanced by subtle notes of cedar, spice and vanilla, underlying minerality and a floral note. Well structured, with a fresh texture and a clean dry finish, it's a wine largely sold locally - we can only hope it will make its way to the LCBO.

***1/2 drink now Exceptional Value!

Barone Montalto 2016 Pinot Grigio

IGT Terre Siciliane $9.60 (73148) 12.0% alcohol

Harvested from a single vineyard beside the winery, this offers appealing aromas—fruit notes of citrus, melon and yellow plum with hints of mineral. Dry, light-mid weight, the juicy fruity flavours replay on the palate. Early harvest of the fruit ensures a fresh texture and a lively finish tasting of grapefruit zest. Sip or serve with fish or seafood. (Susan Desjardins)\

***1/2 drink now

Viticoltori Acquiesi Brachetto d'Acqui Sparkling Non-Vintage

DOC Piedmonte $13.50 (375667) 6.5% alcohol

This sweet fizz is produced by the Mondodelvino group and deserves a mention for its light floral aromas and flavours of sweet red cherry/berry fruit, accented on the palate by a hint of rhubarb. The light spritz of the wine helps balance the sweetness of the fruit and provides a pleasing light finish. Serve this well chilled on its own or with fruit and soft cheese. (Susan Desjardins)

**** drink or cellar

Barone Montalto 'Collezione Di Famiglia' Viognier 2015

IGT Terre Siciliane $15.95 (435479) 12.5% alcohol

This wine was produced from grapes grown on a cool east-facing slope to maintain freshness. It shows lifted orange blossom aromas mingling with a basket of stone and tropical fruits. Dry, on the full side of medium bodied, it has a lovely creamy yet fresh texture, and replays the ripe fruit—apricot and mango—garnished with tangy notes of lime and tangerine. There's good length through the clean tasty finish. (Susan Desjardins)

**** drink or cellar

Barone Montalto 'Collezione Di Famiglia Passivento' Nero d'Avola 2016

IGT Terre Siciliane $17.95 (477976) 13.5% alcohol

The climate allows not only ripening to full flavour intensity, but the opportunity to dry some of the grapes in the method locally known as 'passivento' – after some drying on the vine, the grapes are exposed to constant air circulation for about 20 days. The rich fruit flavours of this deep ruby wine launch a fragrant assault on the nose, the palate is fruit forward with a tasty compote of sweet cherries and berries, plum and fig balanced by soft ripe tannins and good underlying acidity. Well balanced and fruity on the finish, you'll enjoy this with barbecued meats and veggies. (Susan Desjardins)